Sunday, December 31, 2006

High Resolution

Actually, I'm not high, but here's my resolution: More frequent posts in '07. Just to be able to say I put something up in December '06, here's a scrap from my review of Dreamgirls, published in full at The House Next Door:

Afro fantasia: Bill Condon's Dreamgirls
By Steven Boone

Remember that scene in The Blues Brothers where Jake Blues catches the Holy Ghost while watching James Brown lead a leaping, flying congregation of black folks in a gospel blowout? That’s the spirit -- the soul -- of Dreamgirls, Bill Condon's film adaptation of the long-running Broadway musical. Writer-director Condon adores the most spectacular, super heroic aspects of what used to be called The Black Experience as surely as Blues Brothers director John Landis loves JB’s permed pompadour.

That’s the spirit -- the soul -- of Dreamgirls, Bill Condon's film adaptation of the long-running Broadway musical. Writer-director Condon adores the most spectacular, super heroic aspects of what used to be called The Black Experience as surely as Blues Brothers director John Landis loves JB’s permed pompadour. It’s all flying negroes and flying hair. As embarrassed as some white critics (and one White critic) have been about Dreamgirls’ lumpy mix of flamboyant negritude with bland, cruise ship arrangements of faux Motown pop, black audiences have mostly returned the love.

Read on...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Dirk Schlaf: Wrath of God

If the lucid lunatic actor Klaus Kinski were alive and had any interest in plying his trade in the American wasteland, he might sound like rennaissance madman Dirk Schlaf. Schlaf can't even post a classified ad without inciting cultural insurrection:

Looking for actors, writers, directors, designers for theatre company which is not for trust fund kids, academic onanists, artsworld bureaucrats or ethnic identity gangsters. Are you tired of the NYC theatre scene, which has decided its purpose is safe entertainmment for the bourgeois and the castrated "left"? Would you rather scare the living shit out of the bourgeoisie than entertain them? Are you sick of PC, channel 13, feelgood capitulation to a NYC establishment which is basically devoted to cutural genocide and killing the arts in New York? Would you rather die than ever apply to a corporation for a grant or beg some corrupt mediocre for money? If so, I want to work with you! If you hate suburban rich kid improv, feel good immigrant petit bourgeois ethnic celebrations, boring statues standing on stage pontificating in mid-atlantic julliardese, please RSVP motherfuckers!

Also, please, no devotees to cultlike, psychofuck acting methods!!!!


Monday, July 31, 2006

Fun with Cut and Paste

A slight re-edit of a recent news report. Some things don't sound crazy until you change a word here and there.

NEW YORK, July 31, 2006
The Iranian bombs that slammed into the Westchester, NY village of Scarsdale yesterday did more than kill three dozen children and a score of adults. They struck at the core of Syrian foreign policy in the region and illustrated in heart-breaking images the enormous risks for Damascus in the current North American crisis.

With each new scene of carnage in Eastern United States, outrage in the Christian world and Europe has intensified against Iran and its prime sponsor, raising the prospect of a backlash resulting in a new North American quagmire for the Syrians, according to regional specialists, diplomats and former Syrian officials.

Although Syria has urged Iran to use restraint, it has also strongly defended the military assaults as a reasonable response to Israeli rocket attacks, a position increasingly at odds with allies that see a deadly overreaction. Analysts think that if the war drags on, as appears likely, it could leave Iran more isolated than at any time since the Iran hostage crisis 27 years ago and hindered in its foreign policy goals such as shutting down Israel's nuclear program and spreading Islamofascism around the world.

"The arrows are all pointing in the wrong direction," said Richard N. Haass, who was President al-Assad’s first-term State Department policy planning director. "The biggest danger in the short run is it just increases frustration and alienation from Syria in the Christian world. Not just the Christian world, but in Europe and around the world. People will get a daily drumbeat of suffering in United States and this will just drive up anti-Syrianism to new heights."

Syrian officials recognize the danger but think the missiles flying both ways carry with them a chance to finally break out of the stalemate of North American geopolitics. Al-Assad and his advisers hope the conflict can destroy or at least cripple the Pentagon and in the process strike a blow against the militia's sponsor, Halliburton, while forcing the region to move toward final settlement of the decades-old conflict with Iran.

"He wants a resolution that will solve the problem," Syrian spokesman Tony Mahmoud told reporters yesterday. "Not only do we feel sorrow for what happened in Scarsdale, but also a determination that it is really important to remove the conditions that led to that."

"This moment of conflict in the North America is painful and tragic," al-Assad said in his radio address Saturday. "Yet it is also a moment of opportunity for broader change in the region. Transforming countries that have suffered decades of tyranny and violence is difficult, and it will take time to achieve. But the consequences will be profound for our country and the world."

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Nigga Please

After watching a fairly clueless CNN report on the new Abolish the N-Word Movement, which is quixotically trying to get folks to erase "nigger" from their thoughts Eternal Sunshine-style... I felt the need to do something besides kick over the TV. So I did what Martin and Malcolm would do, typed an e-mail.

Dear Abolish the N-Word Crew:

I'm sure I'm far from the first black person to respond to your campaign with shrugged shoulders and a deep sigh. You put some impressive resources to work on an issue CNN and the networks love to take up, which should tell you something right off the bat.

I guarantee you, outside of Black History Month, CNN's segment on Abolish the N-Word will be the only time we'll see uncensored images of Jim Crow-era lynchings on that network (not to mention Nina Simone singing her damning rendition of "Strange Fruit"). And why? Why did they take up your cause when we all know that the conglomerate that owns CNN couldn't give a damn about whether we call each other niggers or goldfish? Well, because, as the brilliant comedian Paul Mooney more or less said on that segment, the word was killed long ago, and the time for a public outcry against its use is long gone. When white people felt comfortable enough to use "Nigger" as a casual, public, almost clinical term for Black, it was a cancer. But I have not heard one black person utter the word "nigger" since I was born 33 years ago.

The word you are trying to erase is "nigga," one of the most beautiful and complex examples of black folks taking something meant to eradicate us and fashioning it into... a tool, a weapon, a way of instantly communicating our bloody common history, our interdependence and survival through it all. When a brother approaches me in the street, gives me a pound or a handshake and says, "What's up, my nigga?" I feel about ten feet tall. America may not be our home, but "My nigga" says we both know this fact intimately; that we are brothers because of it; that we have each other's back when the next wave of American ethnic cleansing comes to claim either of us. A simple "My nigga"--period-- is how many young people respond to the kindess of a stranger. It means "Thank you." It also means, "If we ever happen to cross paths in the future and you need something, I'll do my best to help you, friend."

We need "nigga." It is our Iwo Jima memorial and Vietnam Wall all in one. It is an elastic, useful, musical word that can stretch to fit all sizes of imagination, all kinds of complicated social situations. Richard Pryor, who also once made the well-intentioned mistake of trying to retire "nigga," crafted some life-changing comic poetry with it. Without "nigga," his wino-meets-Dracula skit wouldn't be such a dizzying world-historical tap dance. Or hilarious.

Don't worry about white people and others nudging into the "nigga" act. They want to be down. What else is new? Those are not the whites we should be concerned about, as they are merely trying on "nigga" to see if it helps express their own sense of alienation, trauma and defiant individuality in the face of dehumanizing American trends. How could I call myself thoughtful or serious and be mad at the skinny Korean hip hop kids I spot calling each other "nigga" on the corners of Flushing, Queens? I can presume that many of them don't know every twist and turn of the word's evolution, but I'd be foolish to presume that they don't know the general arc--from slur to all-purpose underclass Swiss Army Knife.

There is enough to say about "nigger" and "nigga" to fill 12 encylopedia voumes, so I better cut it short. But let me leave you with a suggestion: With all your web presence and media access, why not spark a movement to come to terms with three words that really are hard at work destroying our progress right now, "thug," "pimp" and "bitch"? These words, with the full endorsement of the media conglomerates (whassup, Jay-Z!), have helped cheapen our young people's understanding of themselves and their peer relationships. They have sexualized and criminalized the kids in their own eyes while making every social interaction a deeply cynical transaction between those who have enough muscle and possessions to live the good life and those who, as 50 Cent so idiotically put it, are merely "Window Shoppas." Our kids, rich and poor, are becoming violent, impulsive, selfish brats while the world crumbles around them, and the N-word has little to do with it.

Thanks for your time.

--Steven Boone

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Fallujah Fest

A film festival devoted to uncensoring and contextualizing video shot by soldiers, embedded journalists and other insiders. A film festival that does not exist.

At you can watch thousands of young fools lip synch to Sir Mix-a-Lot and Evanescence in their underdrawers. You can also go to Iraq. As you travel the blasted sandscape, you can get shot, blown up by roadside bombs, pelted with stones, cursed out in Arabic, mutilated, torched, beheaded. You can also, military-style, get some. You can be a Blackwater mercenary on the hunt for terr wrists (the proper heartland merc pronunciation of "terrorist"); you can pepper an unarmed, bleeding civilian with dozens of machine gun rounds as he cries out to Allah; you can fire missiles and drop bombs on skittering infrared ants that are actually human beings; you can go joyriding down an Iraqi highway, firing into random civilian vehicles to some rockabilly travellin' music; you can send women and children on a hundred yard dash as you lay out a canopy of deadly, whistling projectiles over their heads. You, you, you.

Youtube has surpassed even as a clearinghouse for images of Iraq War atrocities. Type "Iraq," "Baghdad" or "Fallujah" and prepare to lose hours immersed in the real shit. Some of the content there, posted by site visitors, is the usual network/cable TV embedded reportage. Self-censoring, six-figure journalists yapping over near-subliminal glimpses of convoys and combat. But most of the good stuff is culled from independent journalists and the soldiers themselves.

After viewing dozens of these videos, I formed a half-assed thought: Trained killers who manage to survive war learn to accept or at least rationalize the brutality of their art; when they hold the camcorder, fear of incrimination falls to the promise of vindication. We're meant to see that they had no choice, to understand that their finesse at killing mitigates the fact that they kill. As TV has taught us, professionalism and proper intent absolve all. It's all in the edit.

Opening Night Selection

Baghdad Ambush
A swift action-adventure car chase.

3rd Marines in Fallujah
George Romero, Quentin Tarantino, Rob Zombie: Amateurs.

Iraq War
Starts as an homage to Cops, with the "Bad Boys" song ambling over quick cuts of U.S. troop takedowns and perp humiliations. Whatever. But then the editor puts on the same Jay-Z/Linkin Park mashup used to electrifying effect in the Miami Vice trailer. Hold on. A thread of sorrow, lament and irony strides in. At the very end, a near-subliminal rapid montage of mangled, bloody corpses over the line "I... become so nuuuummmbb..." -- the only instance of graphic imagery after mostly wide shots from behind tanks and artillery firing at nondescript structures. Upsetting.

Another nihilistic montage, this time of Australia's Al Muthanna Task Group. They tear through the desert like those marauders in The Road Warrior.

Jarhead-style longueurs
Bored babyfaced American soldiers killing nothing but time:
Crocadile (sic) Hunter in Iraq

Middle Fingers


Out of Competition: CBS News on the Battle of Fallujah

21 CBS reports posted by PredatorFx, a 26 year old man from Columbus, Ohio whose user photo is of a Star Wars storm trooper.

CBS Embed
Typically useless assemblage of vague commentary over war footage pruned of any context, specificity or insight.

This one gets into better detail as the battle approaches.

Over violent footage, CBS reporter David Martin ponders a truly insipid question.

Operation Phantom Fury on "Terrorist Central."

Soldier: "I feel bad for them, but they brought it on themselves."

The Early Show
In the middle of this report, a brief admission about the lethality of white phosphorous, another bizarre statement from Donald Rumsfeld, and a CBS reporter assuring us that a little boy stuck in the middle of a U.S. assault on farmlands was cool with the whole thing. Not that the boy's allowed more than two seconds of screen time or to have his words--whatever they were--translated verbatim.

"..a sledgehammer to kill a mosquito."

Embedded reporter Elizabeth Palmer masturbates over the "the overwhelming technology and firepower of the US military" as it destroys homes and neighborhoods along with insurgents. Watch from the receiving end of an RPG crash into a M1A1 Abrams tank--and the cameraman keeps filming, temporarily immortal behind armor plates.

Street Fight
Palmer tells us our soldiers are "doing their very best to spare the lives of civilians" while apocalyptic action rages onscreen.

The Hard Way
Some intense camcorder combat footage from Time magazine and a roadside bombing that catches a unit slumming.

What looks like the same Time magazine footage, untouched by CBS editors and commentary:

Sort-of Embedded

This documentary by USAF Sergeant James Carney won some kind of military award:

A thoughtful photomontage with field audio led me to the reporter-photographer's blog.

Closing Night: The Abyss

"Hey, warm body movin' across the alley!"

Oh Dude
The infamous aerial clip of several Fallujans running from a U.S. bomber and into a U.S. bomb. A massacre, followed by a comment you'd expect to hear after a cumshot.

OSI agents exchange cash with paid insurgency snitches.

From 1st Cav Div

Peaceful Life
Prewar Iraq.

Children of Iraq
I happened to watch this one muted, but with Sade's Pearls playing in the room. Destroyed me.

Trophy Video
Mercenary contractors shooting civilian drivers in Iraq.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Absurd Comparison of the Week:
Tyler Perry and Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Don’t watch something like Madea’s Family Reunion too soon after seeing something like Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. With the doomed lovers in Ali still loitering in my thoughts as I sat down to watch Madea, I hallucinated some strange points of contact.

Now, what in the holy hell does the shaggy, self-destructive malcontent of the New German Cinema have to do with a clean-cut, entrepeneurial American crowd-pleaser whose masterstroke is dressing in granny drag?

Well now.

Despite his BET Gospel/Black History Month-style packaging, writer-director Tyler Perry is some kind of tough-minded visionary. Like most black Ho’wood films about family, Madea’s Family Reunion looks like a prolonged Kodak moment. But Perry depicts as many tangled, scabrous instances of social and familial breakdown as Fassbinder. Perry is just as cynical-sincere, just as prolific. (He continues to tour, tape and rework his eight stage plays that have raked in over $50 million in the last eight years; it ain’t Fassbinder’s 43 films in a little over a decade, but consider that Perry started out homeless.)

Well, Tyler Perry ain’t all that strange, but in a black culture that has become a homogenous corporate dumpster, he’s strange enough to stand out. Halfway into Madea Perry stops the festivities to have Cicely Tyson, Mya Angelou and a regal 90-something matriarch scold a crowd of Madea’s relatives assembled for the reunion. The elders basically gripe about all the selfishness and nihilism that have destroyed “our” communal traditions. It’s as naked an admonition as Emmi's nervous breadown in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. Tyler’s ambition, like Fassbinder’s, is to represent in miniature the ways a person, a family, a people strive, fail, fall apart. Fassbinder’s desperation, palpable in his films, eventually killed him in a cocaine binge. He was 37, only a year older than Perry is now.
(Not to get all numerological, but it’s also interesting to note that Perry began as a playwright at the same age that Fassbinder started out as a stage director and filmmaker-- 18.)

But Perry’s gonna die rich and old, unless his cholesterol goes up or his private jet goes down. As an artist, he doesn’t draw from desperation but tickled exasperation; his Christian faith abides. He’s already through the fire, looking back. The Sirkian--indeed Fassbinderian--high point in Madea’s Family Reunion comes when a long-abused daughter (Lisa Arrindell Anderson) confronts her social-climbing, borderline sociopathic mother (Lynn Whitfield). Glamorous Mom often let industrious Dad molest the child because she wasn’t ready to give up the middle class lifestyle he provided. Now all grown up, the daughter intervenes as Mom attempts to pimp her sister (Rochelle Aytes) out to an equally reptilian investment banker (Blair Underwood)—again, to maintain a lifestyle she could not provide for herself. This chain of money-driven deceptions and cruelties is worthy of Fassbinder’s Fox and his Friends. But Perry’s belief in personal transcendence pulls his characters out of the mud. The daughter, for sanity’s sake, eventually forgives her mother in a scene of tortured reconciliation. Despite the glossy cinematography, Perry does not skimp on the “tortured” part. In their stand-offs and resolution, Anderson and Whitfield go to the place Shakespearean actors dream of.

Alright: Tyler Perry is important because, like Master P in the mid-90s, he’s an untutored outsider artist whose authenticity and marketing savvy drew millions of defectors from Ho’wood’s trough. Cool. Despite shape-shifting comic instincts similar to Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence, Perry is not simply a brilliant entertainer. He is aware of his audience’s undivided attention and he directs it to statements of genuine consequence in a ravaged people. Trouble is, as a Christian millionaire, he can’t help but represent many of the forces that keep us in chains. But, unlike Fassbinder, he’s still here, wrestling with the contradictions; the possibility that something truly miraculous will come out of this struggle is electrifying.